A glimpse of history

Historic cemetery brings Civil War lessons home

History isn’t always written by the winners.
That was one of the messages conveyed during a two-hour lesson brought to the historic Harsimus Cemetery on Feb. 22. The history of black soldiers on the Union side during the war has largely remained unheralded, something the members of the New York Regiment United States Colored Troops Re-enactors-20th, 26th, and 31st came to Jersey City to correct.
They dressed in Civil War-era uniforms and brought artifacts to highlight a piece of history largely left out of conventional lessons.
The event was held at the gate house to the cemetery in recognition of Black History Month, the Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery. The cemetery is the eternal resting place to hundreds and hundreds of Civil War Soldiers, many of whom lost their lives in some of the bloodiest battles of the war.
“We are proud to protect and preserve them,” said Eileen E. Markenstein, president of the cemetery’s board.
Legend and early historians also suggest that the grounds played a major role in the freedom of thousands of slaves as the site of an underground tunnel connection known as the Underground Railroad. The tunnels may still exist below the cemetery’s hills and hidden crypts, and are being further explored.

“We want people to know about what they have right here in Jersey City.” – Eileen E. Markenstein
Markenstein said the program was part of a series of events designed to highlight the cemetery’s historic significance and hopefully draw donations to help maintain it.
“We want people to know about what they have right here in Jersey City,” she said.
The reenacting group based in the New York City area provides educational enactments throughout the Northeast.
A fully-equipped Civil War historical interpreter and living historian group portrayed the unique and distinct African Heritage soldiers of the USCT, raised in NY Harbor, who fought in the American Civil War to end slavery and saved the union.
Over 4,000 free blacks served in the only three USCT regiments that came out of New York City: The USCT 20th, USCT 26th, and USCT 31st. Their training bases were Rikers Island and Hart Island (also known as Potter’s Field). The NY USCT drew enlistees from near and far, including countries outside of the United States, such as Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Virgin Island, Barbados, Canada, Cape Verde and Native Americans from Long Island.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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